UAE policy on airport expansion “enlightening”

Jonna Simon speaks to Paul Griffiths, who took up the reins as the first ever CEO of Dubai Airports last October
Griffiths: Creating high standards for travellers

What are the main differences between being in charge of Gatwick Airport and your new role in Dubai?
In some ways the airports are hugely different, but in other ways, they are very similar.

The major difference is clearly that the whole government ethos in Dubai is very enabling. The difficulty in a mature environment such as the UK is the legacy of facilities and infrastructures built decades ago, and that the growth in demand for air travel has long since outgrown the capabilities of these facilities. In such a densely populated area as the UK, it would be almost impossible to create the infrastructure needed for expansion such as roads, rail links and airports.  And this is going to become more and more difficult.
The balanced view in the UK and other European countries is that on the one hand, people want the economic benefits of aviation growth; on the other hand, they are not prepared to pay the price for these benefits. In Dubai, there is a more enlightened view and of course there is more space. Supplying world class infrastructure is a necessity for the growth and success of Dubai. Thus working under this more enlightened view as compared with the more constrained view is completely liberating.

Tell us about the new Terminal 3 at Dubai International Airport (DIA).
The new Terminal 3 will be a very big advance in passenger experience compared to what other airports are offering today. The layout of the terminal and the segregation between first, business and economy class has taken into consideration the different needs of customers and thus the layout is totally different for each class of traveller, this too is a major innovation.
In the main concourse, the concept of having a vertical split, so that aircraft such as the A380 can board the premium passengers from the upper level is definitely a major advantage. It is the only concourse designed around the A380.

Emirates is talking about 75 million passengers in the future. What will be the capacity of the expanded airport?
Once we have finished concourse 2 and Terminal 3, we are proceeding - in fact the foundations are already in - with the third concourse, which is going to be linked with Terminal 3. By the time that is completed, we will have capacity for the projected growth of Emirates’ of 75 million passengers at the existing airport.

What about the other airlines using DIA, will their facilities also be improved?
Once Terminal 3 is operating, we will then start a programme of refurbishing and replanning some of the existing facilities. Terminal 2 is just about to open a major new expansion of its facilities. Once Terminal 3 opens in the summer, we will then start to review the entire lay-out and product offering within the concourse of Terminal 1. The general idea is to create a level of customer service throughout the airport of a very high standard.

What kind of traffic will be handled at Jebel Ali’s new airport?
Dubai Airports and the new company, which will manage both airports, have been created to manage the strategic relationships between these two airports. Dubai will become a two airport city and they will work together. Dubai as a city code will be DXB and we are changing the code of Dubai International to DIA. The new airport at Jebel Ali will be known as Dubai World Central Al Maktoum International Airport and the code will be DWC.
The new airport will open during the course of next year and we will move some general aviation and cargo capacity into it. When the new passenger terminal opens in about two years’ time it will be able to handle up to seven million passengers. It will be home to low cost carriers within the region thus there will be some new business coming into the new airport.

I heard that Dubai is not interested in ‘back-packers’ as visitors - its tourism industry is based on five star hotels. Where do you think the charter traffic fits into this scenario?
A big proportion of traffic coming through the Dubai Airports never actually goes landside as they are in transit. My philosophy is the airport is often the first experience that people have of Dubai, and my aim is to improve the standard of facilities to a level which mirrors the whole service ethic of Dubai, to give people a taste of Dubai, before they have even passed through immigration. Travel habits are changing now, the idea that charters are only for back-packers is outdated, travelling is becoming more accessible to a broader range of people, young and old, and I believe that Dubai really should have something for everyone.

How would you describe the Dubai World Central City which will be part of the new airport?
The planning of the new aviation city at Dubai World Central has been very sensitive. Most of the problems with aircraft noise relates to people living under the flight path. The orientation and design of the runways at the new airport means that at one end will be Jebel Ali Port and a purely commercial and industrial area, and at the other end there is only desert.
The city will be to the north and the south of the runways, so the lateral impact of aircraft noise will be very small. There is also a much more enlightened attitude here about the environment. The fact that a vibrant city such as Dubai needs aviation to sustain it is something the citizens of Dubai understand very well.

Are duty free shops at airports coming to an end?
The image of duty free has changed quite substantially, particularly in Europe over the last few years. The name duty free nowadays is somewhat misleading, I think. Airports find themselves in quite a unique situation, where millions of people congregate in the same place with disposable income and time to spend it. I believe that airport retail business has an assured future.